Numerous residents in a small town in North Carolina gathered on Sunday to peacefully protest the city's decision to remove a memorial, featuring a soldier kneeling before a cross and christian flag, from its central park after council members voted that it could no longer afford a $2 million court battle to preserve it.
After the King city council voted 3-2 last week to remove the "praying soldier" statue and Christian flag from its central park, the town completely succombed to the legal pressure of a years-long lawsuit filed by a former U.S. Army veteran, who was offended by the memorial's religious implications.
With the town having already spent $50,000 in legal fees to help preserve the monument from the lawsuit, three city council members, who all voted in favor of the motion to remove the monument, didn't want to waste anymore of its taxpayers' dollars on the court battle, which has been estimated to cost the city about $2 million if it wanted to fight the case until the very end.
However, many residents and military veterans in the town weren't pleased by the council's decision to get rid of their statue. On Sunday, they protested the council's decision and congregated around where the memorial once sat and reenacted the memorial's stance of kneeling to the cross in honor of fallen comrades.
"I am really disgraced at our country for this going on and our city council here for doing this," one protester, wearing a military POW-MIA jacket, told reporters during the protest. "Last I checked, we are in a democracy, which is the voice of the masses."
Steven Hewitt, the Army veteran who filed the lawsuit against the memorial, holds the opinion that since the military is so diverse, the statute shouldn't discriminate against soldiers of other faiths, or of no faith.
"I proudly served alongside a diverse group of soldiers with a variety of religious beliefs," Hewitt said in a press release. "The city of King should be honoring everyone who served our country, not using their service as an excuse to promote a single religion."
Another protesting resident, wearing an Air Force hat and sweatshirt and presumably a veteran, said the statue was meant to pay honor to the fallen soldiers, not promote Christianity.
"That cross, is not like the cross on that flag. It didn't mean that this is a Catholic, this is a Protestant, this is a Jew, even a Muslim. That's a sign and symbol that here lies a hero," the resident said. "The separation of church and state was to protect the church from the state, and it is just the opposite now, and that's what they are doing."
The resident wearing the POW-MIA jacket agreed that just because the soldier in the statute was kneeling, it didn't mean that he was praying, although many believed that the statue represented prayer.
"That 'praying soldier' is not praying," the protester said. "We don't know what he's doing, except for mourning the loss of a fallen comrade."
Although the protesters don't like the fact that the memorial was removed, one speaker who addressed the crowd told them to at least be thankful that this controversy has united the town.
"What started out as hate, turned into love, that has turned into something that has brought a divided community together," the speaker asserted.
The protestor in the Air Force hat was also encouraged by the turnout of the protest.
"I am overwhelmed and I am so proud of them, so proud of them. They didn't have to come out here; it is freezing cold. It's sacrifice. It's all about sacrifice," he said. "It's only the first quarter. Communist liberals: one; veterans: zero. But, it is only the first quarter. We got three more to go. We got the ball and no more defense."